Development of a macro-model of cross cultural ethics.

Author:Strubler, David


Cross-border ethical dilemmas at all levels pose a significant challenge to those who engage in global business. While law is a baseline for ethics (the lowest common denominator), even legal requirements vary from country to country. This places global managers in the difficult position of learning and complying with laws of all the countries involved in a business transaction or operation, e.g., Toyota's industry-shattering recall in the U.S.

However, above and beyond the law is an emerging field of cross-cultural ethics. For example, at the organizational level, consider Nike's self-correction to provide a safe environment for its overseas-workers or Patagonia's initiative to foster sustainability through their global supply chain, absent of any legal requirements to do so. Nor are there legal requirements for American medical teams in foreign countries to maintain safety standards for patients. Nor is a sales manager's decision to inform a construction contractor of a defect-rate for bolts used to build a bridge in a country where earthquake potential is high but where no construction standards exist (Ferrell & Fraedrich, 1997). For this reason, Strubler et al (2009) proposed a corporate ethical development model which assumes that organizations should embrace the "law-above-the-law" with a commitment toward ethical practices that sustain society, the organization, its suppliers and customer base for the long-term (see Appendix I, Cross-Cultural Ethics Maturity Model).

As already observed, there are many philosophies, theories and micro models which have been proposed, many of which are useful for testing hypotheses (Strubler et al, 2009). Out of this literature review came twenty models ranging from the macro to micro level. Therefore, we propose two interacting macro-models as a framework for cross-cultural ethics.

The first of the two models proposed in this research assumes that synergistic variables from national/environmental, organizational and personal subsystems lead to a cumulative, if not exponential, interaction effect producing (un)ethical decisions and associated behaviors in a given cultural context (Owen, 1983; Brommer et al, 1987; Hunt & Vitell, 1986; Wines & Napier, 1992; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1997; Robertson & Fadill, 1999; McDevitt et al, 2007; Tsalikis, 2008; Svennson & Wood, 2008). However, as the literature and this macro model suggests, ethical decision-making and behavior is complicated even within a single culture. Therefore, the second model (based on Schramm's 1999 model of shared experience) was introduced in the Strubler et al (2009) study and is integrated here with the macro model as a means of explaining and predicting ethical decision-making and behaviors across cultures.

So for the first macro model (see Figure 1, Appendix 1), we identified eight major national/environmental factors from the literature which were shown to influence or interact with ethical decision-making and outcome behaviors. These include geography (climate, topography, population diversity and density and the availability of resources) (Lingenfelter, 1992), Social institutions (media, family, religion, government, education) (Ferrell & Gresham, 1985; Wines & Napier, 1992; Svennson &Wood, 2008), dominant cultural values (Hofstede, 1980; Vitell et al, 1993; Husted & Allen, 2008), economy and economic systems (Tsalikis, 2008), political and legal systems (Owen, 1983; ), language (Alves et al, 2006; Connor, 2006; Zhang et al, 2007), public opinion (Owen, 1983; Wines & Napier, 1992), and industry norms (McDevitt et al, 2007). These factors were found to contribute directly or indirectly to ethical decisions and behaviors. For example, Lingenfelter (1992) notes that native Pacific islanders form cultural values (collectivism) based on the availability of food, land, and the eminent danger of storms. Cultures may become collectivistic out of necessity, thus creating social obligations of sharing which, in that context, are considered to be moral imperatives. In a similar way, resource rich geographies such as the United States, interacting with religious and political values (Protestant work ethic and independence) may favor individualism. Among the strongest values in the U.S. are individual rights. In short, we argue that cultural norms such as collectivism or individualism are influenced in part by environmental factors and, once established, become moral imperatives (Husted & Allen, 2008; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1985; Wines & Napier, 1992). These imperatives strongly influence ethical decision making and behaviors within a cultural context.

Second, organizational factors were also identified from the literature, all of which create a powerful context that influences ethical decisions and outcomes. These include the moral development level of the company (Reidenbach & Robin, 1991; Rossouw & van Vuuren, 2003), the demonstrated ethics and management styles of an organization's leadership (Connor, 2006; McDevitt et al, 2007), the culture, history and climate of the organization (Wines & Napier, 1992, McDevitt et al, 2007), the presence/absence, type, and enforcement of ethics codes (Owen, 1983...

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